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Using Media As A Reproductive Justice Organizing Tool

by Ariel DoughertyWomen Make Movies

The media is an incredible tool that can be used to influence public opinion.  As supporters of reproductive justice, it's up to us to use the media to persuade, inspire, and inform the general public about issues that are important to us. Showing films (video, DVD) can be both entertaining and educational. While many women have been organizing around a broad array of reproductive justice issues, others of us have been organizing around media justice issues.


We define film --- its screening before audiences, as well as its creation --- as an empowerment tool. Just as everyone has the right to full and comprehensive health services for herself and family, each of us also possesses the right "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media" (Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Many of us teach media skills so that more and more people have the ability to tell their own stories, using their own voices and images. Especially now with the costs of production drastically reduced, new digital technology, and self-distribution a real possibility, film can become a vehicle for people-to-people communication and for strengthening culture within and among communities.


Is your screening a one-time occasion? Or might it be more on-going? You want a friendly and comfortable place --- large enough to hold the crowd you anticipate, but not so large that it will overwhelm the crowd that comes. Building an audience - like everything - takes time and work. Community centers and churches are good sites. But think outside the box, too. In fair weather outside screenings are fun! Neighborhood parks are excellent sites, and so are rooftops. There are times, too, when you need to be more aggressive and take the screening to your audience. This is best with short films like Becky's Story. At 15 this girl took an abstinence pledge. Ill-informed, she became pregnant and a mom at 20. This experience turned Becky into an advocate for comprehensive sex education. You know your community, and what is the best strategy for doing outreach. The point is to be imaginative and strategic.


Today, all new material is coming out in DVD format. Some distributors have not converted all older, VHS media to digital. Most new computers can play a DVD, but you need a "projector" to blow up the image, and you WILL NEED speakers to amplify the sound. Someone in your group may have (some of) this equipment. Or, check around with other community organizations. Some youth techie may be able to assist here. Encourage your techie to teach others ----both boys and girls (men and women)--- to set up and strike all the equipment. Just as boys and girls both need to be condom friendly, they all need to know media tech skills, too. One other wise thing to do prior to the screening is to test that the DVD operates well on the equipment you will be using. There can be glitches between making DVDs on Macs and PCs, and you want to solve all these matters prior to the screening. With a very small crowd, it is okay to show a VHS tape on a TV monitor, but for large groups it is best to project this too. Dual playback machines set up for both VHS and DVD can be purchased fairly cheaply. Last year after running a youth film program the local arts council in my town (population 10,000) bought a whole presentation system so we could have more community screenings. Groups can borrow the set-up. Maybe there is such a resource in your community. Occasionally 16mm film is the format. Maybe schools still have an old projector in the closet. Or try the Salvation Army? And there may even be a time when a 35MM film is useful in your work, maybe as a fund raiser. In this case, make arrangements with your local movie house.


Especially check out They have lots of tools for activist use of social change media. They provide a vehicle for potential collaborations between your organization's activities and filmmakers. The resources section is extensive. PLUS---they have close to 7,000 social change films listed that can be searched by issues. The descriptions are directed to activist use. And in most cases there is a direct link to the distributors.

Distributors, too, can be very helpful. Almost all have long experience presenting media in community settings. So ask away. In particular check out their community screening rates.

ListenUp.orghas a wealth of information about the burgeoning youth media movement. Most women's films enter the market through hundreds of women's film festivals. It's work, but do a net search "women's film festivals". Festival by festival you will find a wealth of new works. has a guide of African American women's feature films.


A discussion leader is always a good idea, especially if you want to encourage further involvement or action from such a screening. There are many kinds of people to have speak -- community leaders, academics, activists. And don't forget the filmmakers. After a few years of working on the film they are well versed in the subject, and are passionate about the issue. Further, they will also have an interesting story or two they learned making the work.


Rampart media consolidation has an adverse effect on all our organizing work, our access to information and coverage of our issues.  Media activists have been urging groups, 'if media is not your first issue, make it your second'.

Here are some groups that work on media reform:

Is there Public Access television in your community? Make a show about your issues. It is fantastic community outreach. Collaborate with other organizations to pool time, talent and resources. Access staff can assist, but you have to take the initiative. Utilize this great public resource to expand services of your organization. Be inventive; evolve a format that works for your group's needs. Give voice to your issues in your community.

Community radio is the most accessible media. Listen around. Maybe you can find a place for reproductive justice issues on the dial.

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